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Proof that you don't have to be skinny to be healthy

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Science shuts down fat phobia with proof that thinner isn't always healthier

Unless you're a psychic or have X-ray vision, you can't tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. This holds especially true for thin people. You may assume you are fine, but just because your weight is in the healthy range doesn't mean you are.

Gaining weight isn't on many people's to-do lists, but now science offers another reason for watching your weight besides not fitting into your favorite LBD. A new study, published in PLOS Medicine, looked at 12,600 young men and women and found that those who gained weight also showed an increase in their cardiometabolic risks. Weight gain can make you less healthy? Tell us something we don't already know, scientists! But the kicker in this study is that the increased health risks happened no matter what weight the participants started out at and held true even if their final ending weight was still considered "healthy."

Sorry models living on the caffeine and nicotine diet; being thin doesn't give you a get-out-of-healthy-living-free card. This study reinforced the idea that all people should work to eat a healthy diet and exercise, regardless of their weight. And even if you're not trying to lose weight, simply not gaining weight can benefit your health — a reassuring thought the next time you're wondering why the scale isn't budging despite all your hard work at the gym.

"Our study in young adults shows that even a modest weight loss tends to improve the metabolic profile," said the lead author, Peter Würtz, head of molecular epidemiology at the University of Oulu in Finland, to The New York Times. "It doesn’t have to be a large change to have a beneficial role. Even with a normal B.M.I. of 24, it’s worth it to try to get it lower."

While the main conclusion from the study — that we should all watch out for weight creep — is valid, Würtz's comments show just how problematic using weight as the only measure of health can be. Even though he didn't give a bottom limit for weight, plenty of other studies have found severe health problems linked to being underweight. Not all weight gain is bad — think muscle gains, pregnancy and increased bone mass — and lower is not always better (not to mention that continually striving to weigh less is crazy-making). So it's best to work with your doctor to find your own personal "happy weight" where you are strong and healthy, and that will differ from person to person.

More on body image

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7 So-called healthy snacks you should stop feeding your kids ASAP
Health resolutions you shouldn't put off until the new year

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